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President Trump to Reuters: "It's Hard to Impeach Somebody Who Hasn't Done Anything Wrong"; "The Apprentice": The Director's Cut. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired December 11, 2018 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

It's been a wild day at the White House with the president's made-for- reality TV meeting, with Democratic leaders in the Oval Office. We'll have more on that.

We begin, however, with breaking news. The president is speaking out about the Russian investigation, whether he's worried about getting impeached. Last night, we reported he sees it as a real possibility and has expressed concern to others.

That was from a source close to the president. But when the president is speaking out on the record, it is a different story. He spoke about that and the Russian investigation as a whole with "Reuters" a short time ago.

Joining me now is "Reuters" White House correspondent, Jeff Mason, who conducted the interview.

Jeff, you asked the president about Michael Cohen and his guilty plea over payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, what did he say?

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Yes, and I should say the interview was conducted by me and two of my colleagues, Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton, and we did ask him about that and he said first of all about Michael Cohen that he was his lawyer and he relied on him and that Michael Cohen should have known what to do or what the rules were and then he went on to say that the payments did not violate campaign finance laws but if they did it would only be civil.

But then again, he said, but it wasn't a violation. So, he sort of -- he had a caveat. He said, A, there was nothing wrong with it but if there was something wrong with it then it would be a civil violation.

COOPER: Did he say anything about if there's nothing wrong with it, why did he lie about it publicly?

MASON: Oh, no, we didn't talk about that specifically and he did use the word we. So, he -- you know, by saying the words we, he's suggesting that it was both he and Michael Cohen who were involved in those payments on the Mueller investigation and the growing connection between that we're growing understanding of connections there were between the campaign and Russia that are being revealed in court documents, 16 by CNN's current count, what did the president say about that.

So, we referenced that and talked about the number of people who had worked for him before the campaign and during the campaign who had connections with Russia, who done business dealings with Russia and he said, oh, I'm just hearing about this when I mentioned the number. We were talking about 13.

And he said, I'm just hearing about this and then he pivoted straight to Hillary Clinton and said that she had had connections with Russia. But so he -- he just basically he pivoted from that question and went straight to his 2016 opponent.

COOPER: So, just to be clear, the president who watches probably more TV than any president in recent memory and more cable news and any president probably ever said he's just hearing about all of these what you were referencing is 13, CNN I think has counted 16, connections between the campaign or the train and folks in Russia he says he's just hearing about it?

MASON: That's right, and -- but then he went on to say as we continue to discuss it, he said well that's peanuts stuff. So, he was downplaying that and again going back to Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton and their connections or what he believes that their connections to Russia being worse or something that people should be focusing on instead of his campaign associates.

COOPER: Right, and he's talking about connections for the Clinton Foundation with the Clintons.

We reported yesterday the president Trump was increasingly concerned that that he might be impeached by the incoming House or had at least expressed that to people. What did he say about that to you?

MASON: So, we asked him that very directly. I said are you are you concerned about being impeached with the House of Representatives being taken over by Democrats in 2019, and he said, it would be pretty hard to impeach someone who's done such a great job and who has not done anything wrong. And then he talked about what he's done for the economy, he talked about regulations, he talked about the Supreme Court, all of the accomplishments that he's proud of.

And then I sort of pressed him again and said, so is this on your radar? And he says, I'm not concerned, no.

COOPER: He said something about people revolting if he was -- if there was a move to impeach him. What was that quote?

MASON: That's right. I don't have the exact quote in front of me, but it was along those lines. He said, I think people would revolt if that happens.

COOPER: How did he say that? Because I mean, when I heard that as a headline, I mean I tried to think if Barack Obama had said when he was president that people would revolt if you know something had -- was, you know, some political move was done against him I think that would have created a huge outrage among the right certainly if it was interpreted that Barack Obama's talking about people revolting in order to support him, did -- was that kind of a throwaway line by the president or how did he say it?

MASON: I wouldn't say it was a throwaway line. I think that it's what he believes. He believes and perhaps he's referring specifically to his supporters but others who don't think that there's others who share his opinion that the Robert Mueller probe has been a quote/unquote witch-hunt, that's -- it was his way of expressing that people would be very upset about this and he wouldn't be the only one sort of talking against it.

[20:05:02] COOPER: Jeff Mason, stay with us if you will.

I want to have more people join the conversation. Our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman and who's also CNN political analyst, and Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general during the Obama administration.

Neal, the idea about -- the idea that people would revolt -- the president is saying, well, people would people would revolt -- oh actually ,we don't have Neal just yet.

Maggie, the president saying he's not worried about impeachment, does that jive with what you're hearing?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: No, I mean, I don't think that it's knowing at him every second of the day, but this is completely consistent with what we have seen with him over for years, which is to never admit any sense of insecurity or worry or a fear of defeat. But, you know, he is concerned about this. He is aware that it is a very real possibility Democrats have made clear it's a very real possibility.

I agree with Jeff that this is something that he does believe. I don't think that he is trying to foment violence. I think this is something that he has used language like this over and over and over again when there has been the chance of Trump either being denied the nomination when delegates were involved or depending on how you know various outcomes of state races would go state primaries and so forth he has said people will revolt or some version of that.

I think he does believe this and I think he has a fair point that there are he was duly elected and there are people who are going to see this as an effort to undo the election. Now, that has nothing to do with the rule of law and that has nothing to do with the actual fact set, but there are people who are going to see it that way.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, I mean, I don't know Clinton when he was being, you know, pursuit for impeachment and was impeached, whether if he had said that people would revolt, how that would have been received I'm wondering what you make of this president saying people would revolt?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, as Maggie said and no one knows Donald Trump better than Maggie, you know, this is his M.O. You know, he never acknowledges any sort of weakness and he acts as if the country is united behind him which it isn't. By the same token, you know, all this talk about impeachment to a certain extent is a straw man at this point. You know, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler, who's going to be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, they have said over and over again they are not going to impeach him based on what they know now.

And they are not being to impeach him unless there's a realistic chance of a conviction in the Senate, which there is no realistic chance of a conviction in the Senate.

So, all of this talk about impeachment is really I think, you know, in a way, as always with the president, trying to motivate his base, trying to gin them up against an enemy, but I mean, impeachment is not a realistic possibility, I think at this point.

HABERMAN: It's also just important to look at the context of which he is saying this. Michael Cohen is getting sentenced tomorrow. I mean, that's why it's happening. He knows there's going to be wall-to-wall coverage of him directing Michael Cohen to make these payments. And he's trying to do what he always does, which is pre-spin something. So --

COOPER: Neal, I wonder, do you -- when you hear the president saying, you now, Jeff referenced 13 Trump aides having contact with Russia. CNN is reporting 16 that we know about. The president calling it peanut stuff.

In your mind, is it peanuts stuff?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER U.S. ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Heavens no. You know, I think what this interview demonstrates is really, more than anything, Donald Trump's delusional state. I mean, this is of a piece with, oh, totally clears the president, thank you, last week after the Cohen memos and things like that.

You know, the idea that this is peanuts stuff, the fact that he lied to the American people during the campaign time and again, said no dealings with Russia, no dealings with Russia, and then all of a sudden, lo and behold, we have dealings with Russia. That's not potentially a felony, it's also a national security emergency.

I mean, the Russians have had for two years very compromising information. They knew, because they were the other parties to these transactions, that the president lied to the American people. You know, it's not surprising that our American policy has looked the way it has towards Russia the last two years.

So, I think this is a very serious thing and that's why I think the president is so worried and calling on people to revolt, and this and that. I mean, this is distasteful. It's not the way any president of the United States, it's not the way any, even low-level government official should behave.

COOPER: Just for accuracy, he wasn't saying people should revolt, he was saying that people would revolt. I know it's a minor difference, but I wanted to make sure we're saying it accurately.

I want to play some of the comments those around President Trump made about any contacts with Russians. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?


[20:10:00] That's absurd.

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We don't know of any contacts with Russian agents.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: These conversations never happened.

DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: This is time and time again, lie after lie. It's disgusting, so phony.

PENCE: Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?

TRUMP JR.: I can't think of bigger lies.


COOPER: Maggie, I mean, if it was nothing, just peanuts stuff, why is everybody not saying that there wasn't any contact. Why are they lying about it?

HABERMAN: I mean, again, we have the default over and over again of folks around the president claiming -- not all folks, but many folks claiming that, something, just the default setting, this isn't true, whatever you're asking about this isn't true. And then when it becomes clear in a court document that actually it is true, the president says, well, it's really just not that big a deal.

We don't actually know what it means in terms of the scope of it. We don't know what the information was, but at minimum, that's a lot of contacts. So there's a lot of efforts to try to interface with the Trump campaign.

COOPER: It's not a normal number.

HABERMAN: Correct. It is not a normal number at a certain point, not everything can be written off as, oh, there were just inexperienced, oh they didn't know anything, oh this just happened 14 times, that's a lot of times. TOOBIN: And, Anderson, I mean, you know, these stories start to merge together. The alleged Soviet agent -- Russian agent, Maria Butina, she's going to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge on Thursday. In 2015, she asked Donald Trump a question about relations with Russia and he said, oh, you know, I think I can be friends with Putin and I think the sanctions should go away. That's precisely the time that he is negotiating to build Trump Tower in Moscow for which he needs Vladimir Putin's okay.

So, you know, he is -- he was using the campaign as an opportunity to do business and make money. Now, what we don't know or hasn't established clearly is whether the Russians were working directly with the president on getting him elected president. That's what the collusion investigation is all about. But the intricacy of the connections between the two that we're learning is more and more all the time.

COOPER: Jeff Mason, when was this interview conducted? And do you have a sense of why they decided to do it other than wanting to speak to you?

MASON: No, I mean, we were -- we've asked for an interview as I'm sure other colleagues of mine and in other news organizations have and it materialized today, so we did it this afternoon, after -- you know, just a couple hours, I think after that sort of raucous meeting with the Democratic leadership in the Oval Office and he was in he was in a pretty good mood when we sat down he was calm we talked about a lot of things in addition to the Russia issue that we've just been disgusting now.

He also said that he would be -- he would consider intervening into the case of the Huawei CFO who has been detained in Canada if that were good for the country and good for a potential trade deal with China so that that was another big headline that came out of our interview.

COOPER: Neal, the president saying that the hush money payment wasn't a campaign contribution and that quote, it's only civil, and even if it's only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. Is that what the law says as well?

KATYAL: No, and I think we can see already, you know, the Trump's bait and switch (ph) basically, you know, ideas here. I mean, first, he said there was no payment, there was no payment, now, he's caught red-handed, there's a payment, so now, it's -- oh, it's not illegal but as the memo from the Southern District New York prosecutors last Friday said and these are career prosecutors, this is not Mueller's team, it's a felony and it's really hard to come out with any other conclusion.

I mean, you can say these are minor campaign contributions, $130,000, and a couple hundred thousand dollars, but the timing is the thing that's the really big deal. This is right before the election, just a few days before, particularly with the Stormy Daniels payments.

And in one way of thinking about it, this is the most significant campaign contribution ever in the history of the United States. I mean, these two contributions very well may have swung the election. So, it's really hard I think to pooh-pooh this to some minor thing.


COOPER: Jeff, first of all, do you agree with Neal that this is more significant campaign contributions perhaps in the history of the U.S.?

TOOBIN: Oh, I don't think you can point to another pair of campaign contributions that were so directly tied to the outcome. Now, you know, especially an election that was this close, you know, it's very hard to count how many votes might have been affected. But you can be sure that's why they paid the money, because they knew they were in a close election and they didn't want this very embarrassing news to come out on the eve of the election.

The other point that's worth making about the memo that the Southern District said is that they felt this was a crime that deserved jail time for Michael Cohen. But if Michael Cohen deserves jail time for a campaign contribution that he wasn't even the beneficiary of, what does that say about what Donald Trump deserves?

[20:15:03] That is a question that -- I mean, it's just hangs out there the Southern District doesn't answer it, but it's a pretty remarkable thing to think about when they assert that this campaign contribution is part of a set of crimes that deserves four years in prison for Michael Cohen.

COOPER: Maggie, the notion that, you know, the president was simply relying on Michael Cohen who's, you know, as the president says, supposed to know what to do I guess in a case like this. Does that --

HABERMAN: Who doesn't have a lawyer on hand to take care of this kind of thing after all?

COOPER: Yes, on retainer no less.

Does that hold water? I mean, you've written about the relationship between the then citizen Donald Trump and Michael Cohen and in fascinating ways, and it's a really complex one and the way he treated him and --

HABERMAN: Look, it actually does hold water that the president would say just take care of it - almost everyone around him. What I don't know and Jeff Mason would know whether this took place in their interview, but what I don't know is whether the president explained any more in any greater detail about why it is that he said he didn't know or what he discussed with Michael Cohen about or, did he -- the fact that he directed or what he said to Allen Weisselberg the CFO of the Trump Organization, which is now a separate issue, or related but separate issue about making these reimbursements to Michael Cohen which in the prosecutors memo or the SDNY memo from last week, they described as false documentation. That's not a nothing.

And so, look, I am not personally willing to say this swung the election, but I do think in an election where the president was backed very heavily by evangelical voters, these would have been two very heavy bricks on the weight against voting for him to have two stories of, you know, a Playboy model and a former porn star adult film star saying they had affairs with him, I think that would have been a lot. And so, I do think that there were reasons to have this go away beyond not just embarrassing his family.

COOPER: Yes, and again as you point out -- go ahead, Neal.

KATYAL: One thing I was going to add to Maggie's important point is, you know, why so broad information there. He's cooperating now with federal and perhaps state law enforcement agencies and the all of the fraud around those companies and payments very well maybe state violations of New York law, and that's not something that either this Whitaker, this acting attorney general or a Barr or even a presidential pardon can deal with.


KATYAL: So, this is I think some serious new hot water.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody.

Jeff Mason, thank you very much. Fascinating interview appreciate you coming on to talk about it as well.

We have much more head on today's -- well, I will show you it at what happened in the Oval Office today. The president the Democratic congressional leadership, no tables were flipped, but it was an every other way made for reality TV. More importantly, the president continued to tell lies about the border wall. We're keeping him honest on that.

Also ahead, the president would have you believe, there are ten or more people clamoring to replace Chief of Staff John Kelly. That's no problem that he had no plan B when his top pick declined the job. He says that's no problem. We'll get the latest on that, and hear from Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, coming up.


[20:22:10] COOPER: If you ever used to think of the Oval Office defied plays were serious people discuss serious issues in a serious manner. Today, the reality of what it's become became clear. Today, the Oval Office was used as a backdrop like the fake boardroom said on a reboot of "The Apprentice", except on this White House show, the contestants don't have to pretend that they want to work for Donald Trump. In fact, later, one of the participants even question the president's manhood.

The whole thing started when the president called cameras into the Oval Office during a meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He called the cameras in. It wasn't just accidentally that they were there and this happened in front of cameras. It was planned.

The vice president was there, too. You wouldn't really know it, because he sat silently at times staring down at his hands. While the president tried to star in and produce the show.

Now, it might have been gotten away from him a bit with the top congressional Democrats not going along with the script he had in mind, but certainly taking part in the made-for-TV event.


TRUMP: Nancy, we've gained in the Senate. Nancy, we've gained in the Senate. Excuse me. Did we win the Senate? We won the Senate.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: When the Senate brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble.

TRUMP: I did. We did win.

It's called transparency.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I know, it's not transparency when we're not stipulating to a set of facts and when we have a debate with you saying we want a set of facts.

TRUMP: You know what? We need border security. That's what we'll be talking about. If we don't have border security, we'll shut down the government.


COOPER: And that, in the middle of the jabs and interruptions and the grandstanding and "The Real Housewives" techniques, was the main substance of the show. Perhaps it was orchestrated to appeal to his base, to make him look tough, to create headlines that would distract from the constant headlines being made by the Mueller investigation, or as Maggie pointed out, to distract from the Cohen sentencing, which may happen tomorrow. More on the Cohen case, where we may learn tomorrow.

Whatever the motive, the president wanted to make one thing clear. He says he wants his wall and if he doesn't get the money he wants for it, in ten days, he'll shut the government down.


TRUMP: If we don't get what we want, one way or the other, whether it's through you, through the military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government.



COOPER: OK. So the president says he'll shut it down. He can do that. I supposed to he wants to, and again, whether or not that's a smart political play for him or not, but what we'll deal with first is what it always seems like we deal with when it comes to this administration, the immigration issue, and that is, simply put, the lying, the lying about facts. Because you can argue for and against the merits of the current

immigration policy all you want or the border wall, but if you do it, you got to at least have basic facts right, especially if you're the president or the United States, or at least you should.

So, again, that's where starting right now, keeping them honest first about the president's claims about a new wall.


[20:25:02] TRUMP: One thing that I do have to say is, tremendous amounts of wall have already been built. And a lot of wall, when you include the renovation of existing fences and walls, a lot of wall has been built. We don't talk about that, but we might as well start, because it's being built right now.

But a wall will get built. A lot of the wall is built. It's been very effective.


COOPER: A lot of the wall has been built, but they don't talk about that very much, because they don't want to make a big deal about the wall.

If there was actually a new border wall being built, don't you think they would haven't actually like moved the whole White House down there for a couple days to show us?

Keeping them honest, the wall has not been built. Not a lot of it, not tremendous amounts of it. None of it. The wall that the president promised over and over and over again, that he would build, that has not happened. The big beautiful border wall that Mexico was going to pay for, it does not exist.

The only new wall and it is a very strong one, sits on the border between much of what the president says and the facts.


TRUMP: People are pouring into our country including terrorists. We caught ten terrorists over the last very short period of time. Ten. These are very serious people.

Our border agents, all of our law enforcement has been incredible, what they have done. But we caught ten terrorists.

These were people looking to do harm. We need the wall. We need -- more important than anything, we need border security of which the wall is just a piece.


COOPER: So, keeping them honest, we checked with the Department of Homeland Security. They didn't have specific information about ten terrorists being caught over the last short period of time, as the president said. The Department of Homeland Security referred to as previously issued information not specific to the border wall or to the southern border at all, referring to efforts all around the world to prevent people on terror watch lists or suspected terrorists or people who have connection to terrorism suspected, of trying to enter the U.S.

On average last year, every day, the Department of Homeland Security say they stop ten people tied to terrorism or suspected of from trying to travel to the United States. It has nothing to do with the wall or even the southern border. It's in embassies overseas trying to get visas. It's all over.

In fact, a terrorism report was released back in September, so under President Trump, said that by the end of 2017, there was no credible evidence of international terrorist groups establishing bases in Mexico, working with Mexican drug cartels or crossing into the United States from Mexico. That's the president's State Department.

In the meeting, the president also touched on a favorite Fox News talking point, the nothing that people are pouring over the border bringing in disease. After the meeting, he talked about it again.


TRUMP: Democrats or most of them, it's hard to believe, but most of them want open borders. That leads to crime and other problems. You know, one of the problems that people don't talk about, you have a tremendous medical problem coming into a country, communicable disease, tremendous problems. People don't want to talk about it. I don't like talking about it.


COOPER: Again, if there were huge amounts of communicable diseases being carried across or southern border, do you think he wouldn't want to talk about it?

A, Democrats are not calling for open borders. They might not want to approach the issue the same way as the president. But open border, that's not an argument the Democrats are actually championing. B, there is no evidence of tremendous numbers of people coming into the country bringing communicable diseases. There's plenty of communicable diseases here, by the way. They're already here.

Keeping them honest, the medical journal "The Lancet" says the stereotypes that migrants are disease carriers is one of the most prevalent myths about migration. Just last week, it issued a new report with international data analysis, calling just that, a myth.

It might be a fear tactic, but it's not based in fact. Look, we know this is the same refrain to the same old song. The lies the president told today about parts of the wall already being built, they've been whistling that tune for a while. Even after it was proven to be untrue.

Back in March, the president tweeted this: Great briefing this afternoon on the start of our southern border wall. Look, there's a picture of our new southern wall. That's the one that Mexico is paying for.

Keeping them honest, that's not the start of a new southern border wall. The picture the presidents included in that tweet, our Gary Tuchman went to check it out. Went to that place in Calexico, California.

Those pictures of the supposed start of the wall, it's this -- it was replacement fencing of existing wall, existing fencing. Nothing new. Gary spoke with the local mayor and an Mexican official, as well.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all as a community want to make sure that the people out there in this country know that Calexico, California, is not the beginning of a wall project for the Trump administration. It is completely different.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The director of international affairs for the neighboring city of Mexicali wasn't as diplomatic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We knew that it was a lie.


[20:30:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So here's what happen when Gary Tuchman confronted the Vice President who is also in Calexico.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Vice President, this is a fence replacement project.


TUCHMAN: The fence is there for decade, this is nothing new. President Trump tweeted that this is the beginning of our southern border wall.

PENCE: It is.

TUCHMAN: (INAUDIBLE) that this is not the beginning of the southern border wall that he promised to voters.

PENCE: This is the beginning of the southern border wall. This is was from --

TUCHMAN: But this is a replacement project.

PENCE: -- fiscal '17 budget. This is a replacement project, but if you will, look at the border wall. This new wall is roughly two or three times taller than the wall that was here today.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: So they're doing routine repairs on existing fencing, not building that big beautiful new border wall paid by Mexico, which you remember that part of the campaign promise, don't you?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I promise, we will build the wall.

And who is going to pay for the wall?


TRUMP: Who is going to pay for the wall?




TRUMP: It will be a great wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

Mexico will pay for the wall.


COOPER: Mexico. The President repeated that one today actually to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer after the cameras stopped rolling. Apparently he said Mexico is going to pay for the wall as part of the renegotiated NAFTA deal.

A Mexican government official familiar with the issue responded saying Mexico's position remains the same, and I'm quoting, "Mexico will not pay for it, no matter how you spin it."

Multiple times in that meeting today the President said he would proudly shut down the government over this and not blame anyone else, including Schumer.


TRUMP: I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn't work. I will take the mantle toward shutting down and I'm going to shut it down for border security.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: But we believe you shouldn't shut it down.


COOPER: Well, joining now, former adviser to four presidents and CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen and former Obama Senior Adviser and Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod.

David Gergen, you worked in a lot of White Houses for a lot of different presidents. Have you ever seen the Oval Office used in this way?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, never, including the Reagan years when he was a showman in so many ways. But I do think actually, Anderson, it was good theater. I mean, we went into the room where it happens and we had a sense of what actually a negotiation is like within the Trump White House. And so I thought that was helpful, but I think it also backfired on the White House. I doubt they'll want to do it again --

COOPER: That far, in what way?

GERGEN: -- because he painted himself into a corner. Well, he painted himself into a corner on the wall. He's either now going to be in a situation where you let the government shut down occur and he's proudly accepting responsibility for it, and that will hurt. Or he's going to surrender on the wall and not go forward with it and let the government stay open, and then he'll look weak.

COOPER: Well, but he could also just --


COOPER: But he can also just continue to lie and say, well, we are building a new wall, it is happening, and they're repairing existence fence.

GERGEN: Well, but if he -- but he is -- you know, then why would he shut down the government then if you think there's lie out of it? I just think he would not want to go through the government shut down.

Look, there's something else that really -- important that happened in that -- in this session. I think Nancy Pelosi basically wrapped up the speakership. You know, she went toe to toe with the President and won. She was tough. She was so pissed. I think it will strengthen her case to be the speaker.

COOPER: David Axelrod, I mean, first of all, just general I'm wondering what you thought of this in the Oval Office.


COOPER: But part of what was so, I guess, fascinating about the whole thing is that you had congressional leaders sitting there basically telling the President to his face that he was lying.

AXELROD: Yes. Well, they were there obvious -- they obviously were going to send a message. And I agree with David, I think that nothing rallies a caucus more that the leader of their party going up to the White House, really a President of either party, if there's an issue, a controversial issue in taking their side and being tough about it, so I think she did profit from that. But let's be clear, Donald Trump knew what he was doing in that room. I think he called the reporters in for a reason. He likes that -- he likes that story line that he's willing to stand up to the liberals who are standing in the way of a border wall, and that he's willing to go right to the shut down if necessary to do it.

Now, I also agree with David that the problem with it is that eventually you get to the end of the line here and you have to make a decision and people don't like shut downs. We've been down this road several times.

And so whether or not it would actually profit him to shut the government down for the wall is a different issue. But as -- just in this news cycle for this day, he put on a show for his base and I bet, you know, he's pretty happy with the show he put on.

COOPER: Yes. I mean the reporter from Reuters who did the interview with him afterwards said he seemed in a good mood after this.

[20:35:00] David Gergen, I just want to play another part of what happened today in the Oval Office.


TRUMP: I also know that, you know, Nancy is in a situation where it's not easy for her to talk right now and I understand that, and I fully understand that. We're going to have a good discussion and we're going to see what happens, but we have to have border security.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: Mr. President, please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory.


COOPER: David Gergen, it seems like the morale of that moment is that the President probably shouldn't try to mansplain to Nancy Pelosi.

GERGEN: I think that's absolutely right. I think the conversation got away from him today. I do think it was interesting theater, but when he says I would be proud to shut down the wall, to shut down the government over border security, I think most people probably say, "What? What are talking about? Why would you be proud of that? Isn't that a terrible outcome?"

AXELROD: Yes. I'm not sure --

GERGEN: I just can't believe that was -- the talking points, I can't imagine that was in the talking points.

COOPER: David Axelrod?

AXELROD: I'm not sure -- well, I don't know -- I'm not sure that he minded that message. I think he thinks that message goes right to his base, but there was another point where Pelosi said, "Well, if you feel so strongly about it, why don't you pass it through the House right now? You have a Republican majority through the rest of the year." And he said, "Well, I could do it." And she said, "No, you can't. You don't have the votes."

And that to me was -- that was Nancy Pelosi that he's going to have to face down the line because nobody counts votes in that House better than she does and I'm sure she's right. If he could pass it through the House, he would pass it through the House.

COOPER: So David Axelrod, this is a harbinger or preview of what the next two years is going to be like for the President?

AXELROD: Yes. Well, I think it's going to be tough. I mean I think part of the reason he did what he did today was because he didn't want you and others leading off with the Mueller investigation --


COOPER: Right. That I agree with.

AXELROD: -- as he often does distract from that. But that thing -- those walls are closing in on him and the more he feels trapped, the more I think he's going to lash out. And I think what the leader signal today was that they're going to be tough and steadfast here. So I think we're in for a stormy couple of years here.

COOPER: Yes, buckle up. David Gergen, thank you. David Axelrod, appreciate it.

Up next, how the President doubled down after that showdown with the top Democrats in the Oval Office. And later, what a judge is ordering former adult-film star Stormy Daniels to do after dismissing one of her lawsuits against President Trump


COOPER: Welcome back. As we reported quite a scene in the Oval Office today in a made for T.V. meeting with the President, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the President said if he doesn't get what he wants, namely his long-promised and undelivered border wall, he'll gladly shut down the government. After meeting, the President doubled down.


[20:40:10] TRUMP: We need a wall. We need border security and part of border security is a wall. So I don't mind owning that issue. I mean, Chuck's problem is that, you know, when the -- when we last close down, that was his idea and honestly he got killed.

And so he doesn't want to own it and I said, "You know what, rather than us debating who's owning it, I'll take it. I'll take it." If we close down the country, I will take it because we're closing it down for border security and I think I win that every single time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: With me now, CNN Political Analyst and USA Today columnist, Kirsten Powers, and former RNC Chief of Staff and CNN Political Commentator Mike Shields. Good to have you both.

Kirsten, I mean, watching that meeting today, it was certainly hard to keep up with how many things about the wall and the border the President said that simply wasn't true.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, I mean, if you go just right back to the main issue, which is this sort of manufactured crisis about our country being invaded by undocumented immigrants --

COOPER: Disease carrying.

POWERS: -- that the whole -- the entire thing is something that has been manufactured to basically gin up support for a wall that we frankly don't need. So I think -- then you add to that that there's all these other stories that are constantly being told about people coming in bringing diseases. You were just talking about that earlier. This is something that comes up every time.

It came up with -- when the border children came across. These are unaccompanied children who are fleeing terrible circumstances trying to get to safety. And you had people on the right saying that they were infecting us all with diseases, which of course never happened and it's the same thing happening again.

COOPER: Mike, is the President right when talking about the shut down -- if he's selling this as a shut down for border security, he will win on that every time?

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, look, first of all, there are so many things that we discuss about the President every night. And we rarely actually have a policy debate and here's a policy debate.

And actually right in the Oval Office with the leaders of the country debating each other, I thought that was an amazing remarkable thing to watch. They're actually debating over some policy

COOPER: It was but then, of course, it wasn't it for just cameras? I mean, that's not a real debate.

SHIELDS: Well, it's not -- no, it's not a debate like you have a proper debate set up in a campaign. I'm just saying the American people don't always get to see the leaders of opposite party sort of interacting with each other and fighting over a policy issue.

They take shots at each other and they tweet against each other and that sort of thing. They're actually having a policy conversation and the policy conversation is funding for border security. And Republicans believe this is a winning issue for us, even in the suburbs.

When you talk about this in terms of should we protect the border and stop drugs like fentanyl and opioids coming across the border versus a party where the, you know, deputy chair wears an open border t-shirt, that's a political winner for Republicans and the President set that up. If you want -- you're talking about the short-term --


COOPER: Wait a minute. Hold on. Mike, who's -- I mean, who's arguing, yes, we want more fentanyl being -- brought across the border and more drugs? I mean the President -- you're saying this is a debate, a policy discussion. The president is lying about building his wall being already built. He's lying about people carrying disease -- hordes carrying -- dirty hordes carrying diseases. I mean why if he has that on your side?

SHIELDS: Yes, I don't think he has to -- I agree. I don't think he has to go that far. I actually think that's too far. I think if you look at polling, you look at how specifically women in the suburbs, a critical voting bloc for Republicans heading into 2020, they want border security.

And so that issue is on our side and the President is well served to just kind of stick to that. I think when the Democrats say we shouldn't shut the government down over a disagreement, what they're saying is we don't want to talk about the real issue, which is we're not committed to border security the way that you're committed to border security and we know that's a winning issue for you. And so --

COOPER: Kirsten, are Democrats not committed to border security?

POWERS: No, I don't think there's any evidence of that actually. They've gotten a lot of criticism from immigrant rights groups. President Obama was called the deporter in chief and he was being criticized for being actually too hard on the border -- around the border in terms of, you know, catching people and, you know, putting them in detention centers and so on. So this is, again, just a made- up statistic.

It doesn't -- it doesn't happen. There's really no one in the Democratic Party who is seriously arguing for open borders. I'm not saying there aren't Democrats that exist who believe that, but it's just not -- it's not the policy. And the policy is so far removed from that if you actually look at the bills that Democrats have put forward. I've actually been critical of them being too harsh and a lot of immigrant rights group have as well. So this is just something that Republicans say, but it's just not true.

COOPER: Mike, the President said -- this thing is getting a lot of pickup and I wanted to get your feedback on it because we haven't heard the way he said it, which maybe makes a difference. But he said, I'm not concern, no. I think that the people -- he's talking about impeachment.

[20:45:10] "I'm not concern, no. I think the people would revolt if that happened." Is that -- does that worry you at all, the President kind of talking like that, because I keep thinking if President Obama had said that, you know, well, if somebody does something to me or tries to impeach me, the people would revolt if that happened. I would feel like he would get a lot -- have gotten a lot of criticism for that.

SHIELDS: No. I mean, look, the revolt is -- there's a lot of ways to revolt. I mean, they can revolt at the ballot box and I think he's right, by the way. I think impeachment is going too far, especially based on what we're seeing so far. I think the Democrats aren't going to be able to help themselves. They're going to impeach the President in the House. I think they can't stop it.

I think the Democratic leadership spent all of 2018 telling their candidates don't talk about impeachment because it's a bridge too far for most voters based on what we've seen and they're not going to be able to stop now because the base of their party gets so angry at the President personally that when they see the stories -- we have Adam Schiff sort of stirring up the hornet's nest thing, he could be indicted when he leaves office. They're not going to be able to stop it and they will go too far.

And, look, I worked for Newt Gingrich in the '90s. I've seen this movie before. And the party will be driven by its base to go too far and overplay their hand. I think that's what's going to happen.

COOPER: Kirsten, when you hear the President say -- talk about a possible revolt if he's impeach, does that -- do you think too much is being made of that?

POWERS: Well, I think he is right, actually, that there would be a revolt. But I also think that it's not something that's even on the table for Democrats. And just -- I just -- what happens is -- well, we're just watching it right here in this interview where Republicans just have these talking points about the Democratic Party and they just say these things like they're facts, and they're just not true. So it's just not true no matter how many times a Republican comes on CNN and says that Democrats are planning on impeaching the President --


SHIELDS: Kirsten, that's not a talking point, that's my analysis.

POWERS: -- where the current information -- don't interrupt me. Don't interrupt me. Don't interrupt me when I'm talking.

SHIELDS: OK, all right.

POWERS: Coming on and saying that this is going to happen based on the information that we have, that is a falsehood. It's not true. But you know what does, it gets the base riled up. And because -- because that's what will turn them out to vote is the fear that the President is going to get impeach. But the Democrats aren't going to do that. There's no reason to do it based on the information that exists and also because nothing will happen in the Senate.

COOPER: We got to go, but Mike, just quick, I want you to respond. SHIELDS: Yes, look, that's not a talking point, Kirsten, that's my analysis. And what I would tell you is most Democratic establishment people that I'm --


POWERS: Base on what?

SHIELDS: -- when I talked to are really naive about what their base and their party is getting ready to do. We've seen it in our side and you're going to watch it tonight.

COOPER: All right. Mike Shields, appreciate it, Kirsten Powers as well.

POWERS: OK. Well, thanks for explaining the Democratic Party to me. I appreciate that.

SHIELDS: You're welcome.

COOPER: Thank you both. Appreciate it.

More breaking news, what President Trump told Reuters about his search for new chief of staff. This is after awhile a reported -- widely reported successor to John Kelly decided he don't want the job. I'll talk to former chief of staff about the -- a former chief of staff about the likely landmines facing whoever is selected. Leon Panetta joins me, ahead.


[20:50:43] COOPER: We have more breaking news on President Trump's interview with Reuters. The President also talked about his search for new chief of staff. One of the reporters who spoke with him shared what he said on Twitter, "I have at least 10, 12, 12people that want it badly. I'm making a decision. Great people. I could do it immediately. I'm in no rush. A lot of people want it."

Joining me now, former chief of Staff to President Clinton as well as many other remarkable positions, Secretary Leon Panetta. Secretary Panetta, thank you for being with us. Do you believe the President when he says he's got a lot of great people, they're all line up outside the door, he could do it really quickly if he wanted to?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CLINTON CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think that when it comes to appointing a chief of staff, you're not just going to pull a name out of a hat and assume that that person can be a good chief of staff. If they're going to appoint somebody to be chief of staff for the President and somebody who can perform the role of chief of staff, it's got to be somebody who has a relationship with this president, somebody that the president trust and that person can trust the president. If that relationship isn't there, I don't care how many people he has that may want this job, it's not going to work.

COOPER: You know, you and I have been talking about the chief of staff situation in this White House from the beginning of this White House and you have raised red flags that have all proved to be accurate all along the way in terms of how the White House is organized. The power of, you know, the various chief of staff.

Steve Bannon made the point to "The Washington Post" that this White House, they've known about this change for months and now they're having this, in his words, audition call in the middle of the time the Democrats are, again, in his words, gearing up to take the President down. Is this something that they should have dealt with before, because certainly the stories of General Kelly leaving have been reported for quite some time now?

PANETTA: You know, it's an issue that I've seen with President Bush in terms of his ability to kind of talk honestly to people about what's going to happen. Obviously if John Kelly was going to move on, it would have been important for the President to have had a face-to- face discussion with whoever would have been his successor.

They had a discussion, but clearly this individual did not want to take the job on a full-time basis, only wanted to take it on an interim basis. If they knew that was the case, then they should have immediately have looked for somebody else to have replaced John Kelly. I think it's a failing of this President in terms of his ability to really talk honestly to people.

COOPER: You talked obviously about the need for whoever is the chief of staff to have an actual relationship with President Trump. Just in terms of other qualities, is it more important for this -- for a new chief of staff to be politically savvy or to have congressional experience given what the President is likely to be facing from the Democrats in Congress as he heads into 2020?

PANETTA: Well, you know, again if you look at the history of those who have been chiefs of staff, first of all, everybody president that I've served with or under, and there have been about nine presidents, all of them wanted an organized White House and one that operated with discipline. I mean, most presidents like to have organization, like to have a policy making process, like to follow strict discipline so that everybody's in the same message. That's not the case with this president.


PANETTA: The one thing that is clear is that he doesn't like to have that kind of discipline imposed, and that makes it even tougher for any chief of staff to be able to do the job.

COOPER: Secretary Panetta, I appreciate your time and expertise. Thank you very much.

I want to check in with Chris Cuomo to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the time of the hour. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, late-breaking developments on our watch, my friend. The President saying, "What, me worry? No, no, no, I'll tell you how I feel about impeachment." [20:55:00] He then said something I can't believe his lawyers will ever let him say again. I'll take you through the words, what they'll mean to his lawyers and why he's got to watch it.

Also, we're going to go deep on the central question facing the Mueller probe. Can you or can't you indict a sitting president? Me, I've been assuming the DOJ guidance should hold (INAUDIBLE) on their own 1973 opinion.

I have a better mind here, though, tonight. A good friend of yours, Professor Laurence Tribe, he says I've got it wrong. And he's going to make the case. He's got a big new op-ed that's flying around the internet, so he's going to make that case.

We also have Bernie Sanders who is here to give his take on that new thunderdome we witnessed in the Oval Office today. And he is making a move to change the relationship with Saudi Arabia. He's got a big bill and a big boat coming tomorrow. We'll take you through all of that.

COOPER: Who is Tina Turner, who is Mel Gibson in "Thunderdome?"

CUOMO: Good preference. Boy and girls, ladies and gentlemen, (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: Two men and -- I'm sorry, one man leaves.

CUOMO: There is just no besting view from (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: We all know our thunderdome. Chris, thanks very much.

CUOMO: All right.

COOPER: Up next, what the federal judge is ordering adult-film star Stormy Daniels to do after one failed legal fight against President Trump.


COOPER: A judge has ordered adult-film star Stormy Daniels to pay nearly $300,000 on legal fees to the lawyers representing President Trump. Now, this comes after the judge tossed out her defamation suit against the President. There's still the lawsuit involving her non- disclosure agreement over her alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump, an encounter that he denies.

The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Christ?

CUOMO: Thank you, Anderson.